Saturday, January 19, 2013

MadCap's Mad Ranting - "Skyrim for One And Skyrim for All!"

And FINALLY the DLCs of Skyrim will be available to the players of PS3 systems around the globe! Pete Hines has announced via twitter that Hearthfire, Dragonborn, and the long-awaited Dawnguard will be made available some time in February at long last.  It's been a long road to get here, but now the players of PS3 can finally enjoy some lovely vampire hunting, Skyrim: Home Makeover Edition, and riding around on rail-shooter dragons.

And, as a way of apology, Bethesda has declared that all three downloads will be 50% off for the first week.  Granted, some might think that it's too little too late, but I bring this argument to the table. Despite all the delays and everything, Bethesda knew about the problem (even if we're still not sure just what the problem actually was) and using time and resources to try and fix it so that it would be playable for the PS3 crowd, and I think that should count for something. I'm not saying that you guys on the Sony boat shouldn't be angry or upset, because you have every right to, but go easy on Bethesda if all I'm saying. At the very least, they were trying to solve the problem.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

MadCap's Mad Rantings - "Holy Marvel, Batman!" and "Pokemon: The Next Next Next Next Next Generation"

Alrighty, some big announcements in the world of gaming to blitz through today. Okay, one big and one not so big, but all in due course.  First up, we got a big one and do mean a big one today.

That's right! 

The Marvel Universe is finally colliding with the LEGO one!

And I know you're just as excited by it as I am.  And by that, I mean only really kind of. I actually played the second Star Wars LEGO Game to come out and I wasn't overly impressed.  It was fun, sure, but that was all it really was.  Tonally, it just didn't really fit.  With recent success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (leading up the glorious blockbuster that was The Avengers...and yes, I'm being entirely unironic when I say that), this is definitely a sort of timely cash-in.

Instead of being bound by the laws that keep the movie studios from finally just giving us a Secret Wars movie like we all want, however, the Warner Bros. Interactive and TT Games will be bringing in the all star cast of characters from Captain America to the Amazing Spider-Man to Wolverine and beyond! Which is actually kinda awesome. This one, I might actually pick up when it comes out. I still don't think it fits really, against its a tonal issue with me like the Star Wars or the Indiana Jones games.  Still, it might be worth a play-through when it comes out.

And now (since you patiently read the article and didn't scroll down to this section) Behold!!!!
Huh...well, okay then.

If you can't already tell, I'm not exactly enthused about the Pokemon series as it stands.  I certainly don't have any hate against it, it was one of the first franchises I played as a kid and its stuck with me pretty much up to the present day. I just kind of wonder how the series has been able to exist for as long as it has with almost no change whatsoever (then again, then same could be said of certain other properties that Nintendo has in their clutches, particularly ones centered around a portly Italian gentleman with an admittedly snazzy red hat). Still, it looks like there have been at least some changes to the world since I last stepped into it, so who knows?

Granted, it's all going to be on the 3DS, so my own personal interest is pretty much completely deader than disco even more than it would be otherwise.  Still, I'm sure I'll hear about it from some of my Nintendo-centric friends and get their opinions on it.

From the announcement trailer, it looks like Pokemon X and Y (really? No colors anymore?) are set to launch in October of this year.

...oh, and David Bowie turned 66 today. Ground control to Major Tom, you've really made the grade.

Monday, January 7, 2013

MadCap's Mad Rantings - "Redguard?"

So, it looks like Bethesda renewed a trademark on "Redguard" as “downloadable computer game software offered via the internet and wireless devices”.  Apparently Bethesda good ol' PR boy Pete Hines didn't comment on it, coyly saying that he can't respond to every rumor, but rumors abound that this is Bethesda's next step in providing new DLC for Skyrim.

But just what would Redguard entail?

In the Elder Scrolls universe, the Redguard race are known as proud warriors of Hammerfell, one of the country that was once an Imperial province but by the time of Skyrim has rebelled and even fought of the Thalmor to establish their own country. Now what would this mean if the new DLC were set in Hammerfell? Well, I personally hope it will tie in to the Skyrim Civil War and give a better resolution than we got with either side. While both sides pretty firmly established just who was in charge by the end, the future of Skyrim was left hanging after either Ulfric or Elisif ascended to the throne. If the player sided with the Empire, I'd like to see perhaps an attempt by the Empire to retake Hammerfell through Skyrim.  If the player sided with the Stormcloaks and installed Ulfric as High King, perhaps Hammerfell might try to march on Skyrim at a weak moment to begin building an Empire of their own. Or, perhaps, it might even lead into an alliance between Skyrim and Hammerfell against the Empire and the Thalmor, both of which both countries oppose.

Granted, this is all rampant speculation and some wishful thinking on my part (they probably won't program all of Hammerfell into the game, though I've been wrong before). And even so, Bethesda has neither confirmed or denied any of this having anything to do with Skyrim, so it may all just be rampant speculation on everyone's part.  Still, some healthy speculation is good and perhaps it will all pay off splendidly.

And not involve Bethesda telling lies about being able to fly dragons.

Friday, January 4, 2013

MadCap's Game Reviews - "Banjo-Threeie"


 I honestly can’t believe it.  After all the years of waiting, they’ve finally released a game I’ve been waiting for since the turn of the twenty-first century.  That’s right, ever since I played through Banjo-Tooie in 2000, I’ve been waiting for this sequel promised to us by the bony head of Gruntilda.  I was worried when Microsoft had bought out Rare, fearing they would do something immensely stupid, like turn the series into a vehicle based one.  Luckily, though, my fears have been completely alleviated by the release of this game, this wonderful, wonderful game.

 And now, on my birthday of all days, I bring you a gift from me to all of you.  I can honestly say, without even the slightest bit of exaggeration that I may be reviewing what is the greatest game that has ever been developed by the hand of man.  I mean, I’ve played Skyrim and it just pales in comparison to a simple platformer with a cartoonish style.

That’s right, you’re reading this correctly.

The game starts up with Banjo and Kazooie, happily retired in their home in Spiral Mountain some years after the defeat of the witch Gruntilda.  After receiving a letter from Banjo’s sister, Tooty (with a bit of a coy explanation of why she wasn’t present or even mentioned in Banjo-Tooie), they are met by the arrival of Bottles, who informs them that Gruntilda’s lair has mysterious been reopened and its old worlds sealed once more with the series’ iconic jigsaw puzzles.  Hoping to get to the bottom of this, the bear and bird prepare themselves with a quick tutorial by the almighty root muncher himself and head up into Gruntilda’s castle to see what is the matter.

Interestingly enough, the series is very much unchanged from the original two games, bringing to the table only an upgrade to the Turbo Trainers that makes everything around the bear and bird duo slow down while they are in use (vital to certain puzzle challenges, particularly in the redone Gobi’s Valley), a variation of Kazooie’s eggs that act as homing missiles (which have great AoE range, but can only be carried five at a time), and a triple jump move that allows the player to access areas that are often unreachable during their first run-throughs.

The journey through Gruntilda’s castle takes the duo through the original nine levels of the original Banjo-Kazooie game, though updated for the modern era and showing the signs of their first trek through them.  The earliest (and most hilarious) example I recall is in Treasure Trove Cove, we find the waters around the island safe to swim in now thanks to Captain Blackeye, who we find chowing down on some meat that looks suspiciously similar to a certain aquatic menace that patrolled the waters before.  There are, of course, little references sprinkled throughout.  

Notable events include Mad Monster Machine getting some renovations (adding maneuvering across precariously perched planks and other exposed areas of the house), Gobi finally finding a nice place to rest back in the very desert he was once chained up in (and in the spot he started in, no less), and the engine room of the Rusty Bucket being closed down for repairs after several crew members lost their minds trying to navigate it.

The golden jigsaw pieces (“Jiggies”, in game vernacular) are scattered throughout the nine worlds, ten to each.  As always, these are needed to solve the various puzzles that have been placed before Banjo and Kazooie as they make their way through Gruntilda’s castle.  Another storyline related mechanic comes in the magical transformations, now a joint effort between Mumbo Jumbo and Humba Wumba (in a very Rita and Zedd style), who have moved into what is now a bizarre combination of his Skull and her Wigwam from Tooie.  This time, instead of capturing a glowbo every world, the game returns to the traditional Mumbo Tokens, which I have to say I rather like as it adds to the nostalgic feel.  The transformations this time around are also great – everything from a dragon to a washing machine and even some that we’ve not seen and you certainly would not expect.

Oh, and Stop N’ Swop finally gets revealed after so long.  No hints on the true nature, but boy was I surprised!

And all throughout the journey, we are given cameos from fondly remembered characters and even a few sections where Banjo and Kazooie team up with other characters in an interesting mechanic to complete challenges, very similar to the Split-Up Pads from Tooie (which are oddly absent here).  But these challenges are rarely the same and all very different, anything ranging from fighting wave after wave of enemies to a cooking sim (no, really).  I honestly thought so many different mechanics would stretch the game too far, but they all work remarkably well.
Finally, after beating their way through all nine worlds and reaching the top of Gruntilda’s tower, they discover a very different witch is behind everything – Brentilda, the former Good Witch who had helped Banjo and Kazooie during their first adventure!  However, a helpful hint from Mumbo tells us that she is actually under a mind control curse put on her by Gruntilda when her good sister found her severed head at the top of the Isle o’ Hags.

In true style, a quiz show hosted by Gruntilda’s severed head occurs, in which she promises to end the curse if Banjo and Kazooie win.  The quiz (titled “Good Gracious, It’s Grunty’s Grill” in true terrible alliterative style) consists of several multiple choice questions about the various worlds travelled throughout the game, some true and false, and even some retreads of the various team up challenges found throughout the game – sometimes swapping the partner that Banjo and Kazooie have to spice things up.

However, after defeating the quiz show much as they have the two before them, our heroes witness Gruntilda making an epic escape into another dimension entirely as Brentilda is released from the curse that had been placed upon her.  Wanting to help, Brentilda keeps the portal open long enough for Banjo and Kazooie to travel through to stop Gruntilda once and for all.
And congratulations, you’ve reached the halfway point of the game!

That’s right, Rare actually did something I wasn’t at all expecting and took a cue from Castlevania:  Symphony of the Night, and added a whole other half to the game.  Not the most original idea, but the inverted Grunty’s Castle is done in a style enough to make even the most cuddly and loveable of characters seem to be perfect Nightmare Fuel.  From the top of the tower, Banjo and Kazooie must work their way back through the Nine Worlds.

In an inversion of the “Light Castle”, they travel through the worlds to collect ten “Dark Jiggies” to complete puzzles and actually close, rather than open the doorways to the nine worlds.  The worlds themselves are much, much harder than their Light counterparts, with several things that were removed to be jokes about the original game being brought back full force (Snacker is back prowling the waters of Treasure Trove Cove, the engine room of Rusty Bucket Bay is back and the fans spinning faster than ever before, etc.), which  - again, much like Symphony of the Night – makes the struggle all the more satisfying when you overcome it through use of your wicked cunning, your reflexes, and sometimes just sheer dumb luck.

What it all puts me in mind of most of all is the nighttime sections in Alan Wake, which I think was an intentional nod by Rare in the dark(er) version of Mad Monster Mansion, where all the enemies are shrouded in a black mist and have to be hit with a fire egg, grenade, or missile egg before they can be normally damaged.

The true ending of the game comes with another quiz show done at the foot of Spiral Mountain (titled “Good Gracious, It’s Grunty’s Grill aGain”), after which Banjo and Kazooie are given the distinct pleasure of battling the Dark versions of themselves (who, in an interesting twist, have the same sound effects as Banjo and Kazooie played in reverse).  This is actually the most difficult boss battle in the entire game, even more so than the fight with a partial reconstructed Gruntilda that follows it.

In the Mirror Banjo’s House, Gruntilda is found opening a portal into a pocket dimension where she hopes to send the bear and bird and be rid of them for all eternity.  A time limit begins and, if Gruntilda isn’t defeated by the time the counter runs out, Banjo and Kazooie are sucked into the pocket dimension never to return and a game over is given.  However, after defeating Gruntilda with a sort flying section, an on the ground section, and a section where King Jingaling sends the Mighty Jinjonator and a legion of Jinjos to deliver the final blow, the spell that Grunty cast backfires on her and she falls into the chasm she has created.  It seals behind her moments after she swears to be back for revenge in Banjo-Fourie.

And it seems very likely that such a thing will happen, as the game ends with Banjo and Kazooie stuck in the Dark version of Spiral Mountain, now with Gruntilda’s magic broken and the portal back to their world in the Castle sealed as the not-quite dead Dark Banjo and Kazooie bare down on them for another fight...and the credits roll.

All in all, cliffhanger ending aside, I love this game.  It’s exactly what I wanted in a sequel.  Instead of doing something completely ridiculous like altering the fundamental mechanics that made two games in the series, Rare went with what worked and they did great.  And with the announcement of Banjo-Fourie to be brought out soon, I hope it’s every bit as exhaustively well done as this one was.  Thank you, Rare.  Thank you for what is probably the best birthday present I could…

…yeah, it’s all still better than Nuts & Bolts, isn’t it?

Banjo-Threeie is now my dreams from a Rare that can make sequels to their own IP competently.